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Modalities of Urban Space


Professor Kimmo Lapintie

Urban Planning and Design
Department of Architecture
Helsinki University of Technology

Duration: 1.8.2006-31.7.2007
Funded by the Academy of Finland


Space is generally considered one of the key concepts in architecture and urban design. Theoretical approaches, however, have remained fragmentary, often concentrating on only one or a couple of aspects of space (such as visual quality or functional requirements) and excluding others (such as social, cultural and political aspects of space). This fragmentation is problematic for both theory and practice, since development of theories (such as communicative or strategic planning theories) cannot really succeed if they fail to address the issue of governing of space. The same problem concerns practice: If new planning tools and forms of participation fail to acknowledge the conceptions of space that they implicitly refer to, we should not be surprised of the resulting problems in dialogue. Scholars interested in the topic have been forced to refer to approaches outside of the core profession (such as Lefebvre's theory of the production of space, or more recent geographical theories), which despite their merits have also missed some of the essential issues related to planning and design. Admittedly, integrated theoretical approaches to space will have to be informed by these theories, as well as the more in-depth ontological and epistemological theories related to them. This research project will start from this fragmented state-of-the-art in urban and architectural conceptions of space, and work out a new theoretical approach informed not by dialectics (as with Lefebvre) but by modal logic. This approach (provisionally called a modal theory of space) will use existing theoretical reflections on the ontological problems related to alethic, epistemic and deontic modalities. In short, urban space is considered in terms of possibilities, that is, the activities that it opens for the human agent, the possibilities of change, as well as the elements of trust and fear that will be perceived and conceived. The addition of the element of possibility to that of reality and materiality, as well as to that of actual experience, is the key ingredient of modal logic and the corresponding modal ontology. Although modalities have been addressed before in theories of space, it will be argued that a more coherent view is still needed. In addition to theoretical discussion, the project will also discuss how this new understanding can be used in analyzing and developing design and planning practice. It will be demonstrated that this integrated view is related to most of the relevant issues in architecture, urban design and urban planning. Since an integrated theory will have to address ethical, social and political issues as well as aesthetical, this will also make it easier to develop interdisciplinary cooperation in the planning practice.


Lapintie, Kimmo (2007) Modalities of Urban Space. Planning Theory, vol. 6, n:o 1, pp. 36-51.

Contact information

For more information of the project, contact professor Kimmo Lapintie, Tel. +358-50-5842710, P.O.Box 1300, FIN-02015 HUT, Finland.